PEPPERELL -- Ruth Stevens has lived in a spacious house at the end of Bemis Road in Pepperell since 1982.
On her quiet, dead-end street, signs caution that the land is part of an aquifer protection zone, and trees obscure many of the houses from view.
But her tranquil home could be disturbed if the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company goes forward with its proposal to build a high-pressure natural gas pipeline through the region, which would cut a path straight down the length of her driveway.
"It's sad when you live on a piece of property for 30 years and you think it's going to be your retirement property and then something like this happens," said Stevens, who was approached by representatives from the company to have her land surveyed for the project.
The proposed pipeline would span 179 miles from Wright, N.Y. to Dracut, and would also affect residents in Ashby, Dunstable, Pepperell, Townsend and Tyngsboro.
Ken Hartlage, president of the Nashoba Conservation Land Trust, said he has major concerns about the pipeline cutting through conservation land.
"They are going to be disturbing a sensitive wildlife habitat with a mile-long 50-foot wide corridor that may well be kept open to the use of herbicides, and this property is a watershed to the Nashua River, which a lot of people have spent a lifetime trying to protect and clean up," Hartlage said. "Meeting the energy needs of the state and New England at the expense of such a valuable asset is just unconscionable."
But the biggest concerns, he said, are the unknown consequences the pipeline could have.
"We're talking about at least 65 citizens, residents, whose quality of life is going to be severely impacted. Other conservation land, specifically that for groundwater, is going to be affected, to what extent we don't know. And that's part of the problem -- we don't know," Hartlage said.
Company responds, but questions remain
Richard Wheatley, a spokesman for Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.'s parent company Kinder Morgan, said that the route being considered is still preliminary.
"Alternative routing is always considered and reviewed as it is our policy to be as environmentally friendly as possible," Wheatley said in an emailed statement.
It's too early to speculate on how the pipeline would affect property values and availability of insurance to residents or ratepayers, he said.
According to Wheatley, construction of the pipeline would bring 3,000 construction-related jobs and $25 million in tax revenue to Massachusetts, as well as an economic boost to the area during construction through purchases of goods and services.
The project is in response to growing demand for natural gas in New England, Wheatley said, but whether those who live along the pipeline will be able to benefit from the natural gas has not been determined.
"Kinder Morgan is in the process of negotiating definitive agreements with customers that will ultimately determine where additional supplies of clean, efficient natural gas will be delivered," Wheatley said in the email.
If homeowners deny access to their land for surveys, the company will file petitions with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as a last resort to keep the project on track to have the pipeline in service by November 2018, he said.
But some, including Hartlage, say the company hasn't been forthcoming enough with answering their questions and reaching out to the affected communities.
And if the company is granted eminent domain from the federal government through a filing with FERC, there would be no recourse for property owners who oppose the pipeline, Hartlage said.
"There seems to be a real frustration, if not anger, at a process that seems to completely usurp the rights of individual property owners to protect their land, and that the government can impose upon them this utility without so much as a fair due process or consideration of the impact it has on their quality of life and without much consideration for alternatives that would be less invasive," Hartlage said.
In addition to alternate routes that do not disturb conservation land, Hartlage said those alternatives could include alternative sources of energy and energy conservation initiatives.
"One of our gems"
According to Pepperell Conservation Administrator Paula Terrasi, the proposed route cuts through several pieces of conservation land in town, as well as five aquifer protection zones, but that protection would be nullified if Kinder Morgan is granted eminent domain.
"There's our piece of conservation land that we've worked so hard on, we've spent all kinds of money protecting, and now we're going to have a scar, it's a permanent scar," Terrasi said.
Conservation land that falls along the pipeline route in Pepperell includes Keyes Farm, Heald Street Orchard, Pepperell Springs, Gulf Brook Conservation Area and the Bemis Road Conservation Area, Terrasi said. The town has not agreed to allow the land to be surveyed, and officials said they would not make a decision until after a meeting with Kinder Morgan representatives next week.
In Townsend, the pipeline would cut through Old Meetinghouse Park, which Conservation Commission Chairman Karen Chapman said is concerning.
"That's one of our gems," Chapman said of the park. "We got money from the state to purchase it and it's land that's used by a lot of people, as well as the impact on wildlife."
Townsend has also not granted Kinder Morgan permission to survey pending a meeting with company representatives. No meeting has been scheduled.
A West Townsend resident who preferred not to be named said she has not yet granted permission for her land to be surveyed, and is awaiting answers from Kinder Morgan.
She said she's worried about losing the natural beauty of her land and the privacy of her home, as well as the prospect of declining property values and the impact on wildlife.
"One of the main reasons we purchased the home was because of the beautiful property and the feeling of seclusion provided by the landscape and the properties adjacent to ours, which again would be compromised by the pipeline," she said. "We have a neighbor in front of us, across the field, that we cannot see at this time because of some large, beautiful trees. According to the pipeline representative that we spoke to, more than likely those large trees would be removed to accommodate the pipeline. Therefore, we would have a clear view of our neighbor."
If the pipeline becomes a reality, she said, she would most likely consider moving, if she could find a willing buyer.
Ruth Stevens said that although she feels personally violated at the thought of having a pipeline on her property, her biggest concerns are for future residents.
"Today it may not harm anything, but the history is these things can leak, and will our children be able to drink our water?" Stevens said.
Stevens' neighbor, Christine Budd, was also approached for her land to be surveyed. She raised concerns about her property value, her ability to get home insurance and the safety of the pipeline.
"Who's going to want to buy a property that's sitting alongside a gas pipeline? I certainly wouldn't," Budd said.
Pepperell selectmen have scheduled a public hearing with Kinder Morgan representatives for next Monday, May 12, at 7 p.m. at Nissitissit Middle School.
For the Nashoba Conservation Trust, its next step is spreading the word and encouraging people to speak out.
"This affects everybody in Massachusetts, and our only hope is to get a lot of support and put pressure on our politicians," said Rob Rand, a director of Nashoba Conservation Trust.
Follow Chelsea Feinstein on Twitter and Tout @CEFeinstein.